Interview with a future criminal

I hadn’t planned on having a real life example of Know the Rules in relation to Decision Making but sometimes life gives us opportunities. In this case, it didn’t concern legal rules but social rules.

Out on my walk this morning, I had an interesting encounter with a future criminal, perhaps several potential criminals. It brought to mind something that I mentioned in my guest lecture at The Complete Combatant last weekend. Know the Rules, including the rules of the criminal interview.

The setting was a typical suburban area with sidewalks on both sides of a two lane arterial street. Three middle school aged boys were walking toward me on the sidewalk. There’s nothing unusual about that, although the time was a little late to be going to school. They were twenty to thirty yards away from me. When I first saw them, they had just passed the traffic signal on the corner I was walking toward.

1 interview initial positions

As soon as I saw them, I identified them as Green shoes, Red shoes, and Brown shoes. This is a habit I got from Jimmy Cirillo, as he mentions in his book Guns, Bullets, and Gunfights. I don’t even know if it has any general value but it’s fun to me. A variation of the technique worked very well for me during one stage of an IDPA Championship that had a multiple moving target array.

As they walked along the sidewalk, they stepped aside in the bank driveway and had a pow-wow. Right away, I knew something was up. Secretive pre-contact activity is a clue. Then they got back on the sidewalk and started walking again.

2 interview pow-wow positions

I made an immediate decision. Although I had both a pistol and pepper spray on me, this was unlikely to shape up as a situation where those would be the appropriate tools. “If he pulls a weapon, I’m going to grab it from him or grab his hand and twist his arm to give him a radial fracture.” In any criminal encounter that I can’t avoid, my primary objective has evolved into “I’m going to fuck you up. Win, lose, or draw, you’re going to have to go to the Emergency Room.” Then those difficult and uncomfortable questions by the police begin.

As we closed, Mr. Green shoes, the largest, made the approach. Mr. Red shoes and Mr. Brown shoes looked younger and were noticeably smaller. Green shoes was clearly the Alpha in the group.

3 interview contact positions

His initial approach was so tentative I couldn’t hear what he said. That set the tone for the interview. Clearly, he wasn’t practiced at his craft, so I could have a little fun with the situation.

“Excuse me?” was my response. This was in a decisive firm voice. Something criminals are looking for is indecision. If you don’t display it, they frequently don’t know what to do. As I said it, I started to rub the palms of my hands together. This isn’t an unusual gesture but it pulls the hands up into a low fence position.

“Do you have any money? I’m going to …..”

Before he could even finish, I cut him off. “No, I don’t” and put my left hand up to accentuate the point. The hand up would have allowed me to block or divert a weapon if he had produced one. Then, I immediately started back on my way and left them in the dust. Once again, decisiveness is key. I.e., ‘this interview is over.’ I kept an eye on the shadows to make sure they didn’t follow, which they didn’t. One of the reasons I like this walk route is that the sun is at my back and throws the shadows where I can see them.

4 interview broken

There’s no doubt in my mind that Mr. Green shoes will graduate to full-fledged robbery, either strong arm or armed, fairly soon. Probably in less than a year, he’ll go for it. He was just getting accustomed to his skills, much in the way boys play catch before they start actually playing baseball. Since I didn’t interact with Red shoes or Brown shoes, I have no opinion about their future plans.

Good points

When I walk, I don’t walk around in la-la land listening to music, talking on my cell phone, or being task fixated watching my dog take a dump. My head is up and my eyes are on the horizon. Consequently, I saw them at a distance and had time to adjust my Awareness and mental DefCon appropriately. This is also a good approach to driving, rather than being visually fixated on the rear bumper of the car in front of you.

visual search

Having my hands in a low fence position would have allowed me to respond much more quickly than if they were at my sides. I prefer a low fence in general because I live in a mostly normal world. The high fence is actually a superior defensive posture but it’s weird looking and off-putting if you usually deal with benign people.

Being decisive is important to controlling the situation. If you can maintain control of the situation, you can often walk away without conflict.

Items for improvement

I let Red shoes and Brown shoes get behind me while I interacted with Green shoes. They were both small and I have no doubt I could have easily nailed either of them. But if they had weapons, the situation could have become much different. I need to practice getting into a position where I can see them all.

Taking a short ‘breather’ a few steps after breaking contact would have allowed me to maintain surveillance on them and be sure they had continued on. Or turning off route and going into the bank parking lot. If their moving off had been a feint, watching them or eluding them would have precluded them from bum rushing me from behind.

For whatever reason, the eggs I made when I returned home tasted even better than usual.

25 responses

  1. Good post, especially for including the “Items for improvement.”

    I agree with your overall assessment of Green Shoes, but when you say “His initial approach was so tentative I couldn’t hear what he said… Clearly, he wasn’t practiced at his craft…,” you are overlooking the possibility that was an intentional (and possibly effective) technique. If the target asks the criminal to repeat himself, that extends the encounter, and if the target moves closer in able to hear what’s being said more clearly, that brings the target closer to the criminal. Additionally, looking tentative can also make the criminal appear less threatening, causing folks to lower their guard (if they had their guard up, that is).

    1. You’re right, it could have been a ruse. In this particular case, I was sure it was tentativeness and not deception.

      1. I’m sure you’re right — it’s hard to perceive via a description. Perhaps I should have worded it to say it’s a technique in general, not that he was using the technique.

    2. It’s for this reason (low talking/mumbling) that my default response is “Can’t help you.” I don’t give a damn what you’re asking, if I don’t like the looks of you and your approach, I’m quite sure that I don’t care to help you in anyway, shape or form. Doesn’t matter if it’s a ruse, my crap hearing, or that someone’s mama let them learn to talk like they have rocks in their mouth. Delivered assertive/a little mean,with hard eye contact, it seems to work well.

  2. […] Source: Interview with a future criminal […]

  3. Well done Claude. Some food for thought there.

    Sherman A. House DDS


  4. In your essay you say, In any criminal encounter that I can’t avoid, my primary objective has evolved into “I’m going to fuck you up. Win, lose, or draw, you’re going to have to go to the Emergency Room.” Then those difficult and uncomfortable questions by the police begin.

    I presume your statement about “difficult and uncomfortable questions” refers to the miscreants being questioned by cops (not your being questioned by the cops) ??

    1. Correct. Even if I take a beatdown or the like, when the perp goes to the hospital with a fracture that is clearly the result of a weapons disarm, it invites those questions. Plus, he’ll never be the same for the rest of his life.

  5. Any reason you left out their race in your description of these lads?

    1. Irrelevant to what I was trying to convey. It could be any group of no-goods. When I lived in Chicargo, I had encounters with neer-do-wells of every race.

    2. Any reason why you think it’s relevant LittleBill?

  6. Excellent observations and advice. Cleverly written as usual.

  7. Awareness is a key factor in these sorts of encounters. Having a general plan for dealing with the encounter helps one act proactively rather than react.

    I spend more time than a normal person should in dark places and gas stations late at night. The characters one comes across usually fit into several categories that may or may not become a threat. Conveying a willingness to do bodily harm tends to shorten those inevitable interviews.

    By the same token I’ve run across numerous folks that are genuinely in a form of minor distress. I’ve jumped off cars, provided directions, helped change tires and in one case performed minor repairs to a lady’s battery terminals where the garage didn’t tighten the connections.

    I used to mentally struggle with wether or not to help folks or assume they were up to no good. I’ve made the decision that if it’s within my power to render assistance I’ll do so, up to a certain point. “Need a jump? Sure thing.” If I get a vibe that all is not kosher I’ll ask if they have cables and not volunteer mine. Having them get their cables and pop their hood gives me an opportunity to observe and make a decision.

    “Need gas money? I’ll put $5 in your car. No, I won’t give you $5 but I’ll put $5 worth of gas in your car, just pull over to the pump and I’ll go inside and pay when I’m done here.” Once again I have the option to gauge their reaction and actions. I also can limit contact in this case by going inside and having the attendant set the pump.

    I don’t give out money. Period. Dot. My standard response is, “I don’t have it to give.” I have given out food before. Once again, if an individual approaches looking for a handout in the form of money, claiming hunger I’ll offer the stated goal rather than the cash.

  8. If at all possible (usually so in a city)put your back to a wall. Then his friends can’t get behind you

  9. A great account by all means. It’s so hard to get folks defensively minded to avoid potentially dangerous situations. Too many think nothing happens until they pull a pistol.

    1. I found this on your website.

      “Rights are one thing, making a wise choice is entirely different. ”

      I like that.

  10. Tennessee Budd

    I’m a motorcycle rider, & I find that my normal habit of scanning translates into situational awareness when off the bike, too. On a bike, you had damned well better believe folks are a threat to your life, if only through their own negligence. I don’t have to change the process, just the focus & speed. I’m still looking for potential threats.

    1. I rode bikes for many years and I still have my license. Finally, I gave it up because there were more nitwit motorists trying to kill me than KGB and GRU agents. 🙂

  11. tdiinva (Now in Wisconsin)

    The intelligence community rule for self protection can be summed up as don’t get noticed, run away if you are and apply violence only when you have absolutely no other option. (Actually it’s “hand hoch” if you are working in a civilized part of the world.) You violated the rule. If you, an adult, armed with gun had to employ force against some middle school kids you would had some ‘splaining to do. The smart course of action was to cross the street one you were noticed. By holding the “interview” you surrendered the initiative to potential attackers. Not a very smart move for a professor.

    1. I disagree. The street was busy and has a 45MPH speed limit. I would have had to wait for the traffic to pass and then they would have been able to close with me anyway. At that point, I would have totally surrendered the initiative to them. Nothing is more inviting to a predator than prey that tries to escape but can’t.

      Fortunately, I live in a free state where the likelihood of a 61 yo man with a defibrillator being prosecuting for defending himself against a multiple of youthful attacker is quite low. I agree that is not the case everywhere but it’s one reason I fled Chicargo and live where I do.

      1. tdiinva (now in Wisconsin}

        I understand your point about the difficultly in crossing the street but you had other exit options. Purposeful retreat, i.e., decisive movement, can also act as a deterrent because it clearly shows you know what you are doing. It also establishes the grounds for the use deadly force even where you can “stand your ground.” If you become evasive and they follow you it will be certain that you were exercising your lawful right of self-defense.

        There is too much emphasis on the G in DGU. Evasion can discourage potential attackers and buy you time and decision space. Time is generally on your side and by closing with the threat you give the bad guy an advantage because he gets to choose whether to engage or not.

      2. I think we will have to agree to disagree.

  12. Your fatherly concern for those young men would have gone right out the window when one of them was stabbing you in the gut and the others were laughing. I disagree completely with your mindset walking into that encounter. Three inner-city youths approach you with seeming intent to rob/harm? It’s time to go primal, and I don’t mean start drawing and blasting. I mean start preparing for that… not a damn “interview.”

    1. “It’s time to go primal, and I don’t mean start drawing and blasting. I mean start preparing for that…”

      What exactly does that mean?

  13. Great article. However I caution you about underestimating potential threats. Yes, they were young, inexperienced, and at least two were small. But you allowed them to encircle you. Several years ago I underestimated 3 teens, and took a beating. Skills can cause hubris.

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